With the craziness that is modern life, it’s easy to overlook seemingly minor stressors. With stress being a leading cause of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, depression, diabetes, and adrenal fatigue, it’s important to identify stress triggers and eliminate them for a healthier life.
Sometimes it’s easy to recognize daily habits that cause stress, like that third cup of coffee and overconsumption of processed foods—but a lot of the time, stress triggers are less obvious. In this article, we’re diving into some bad habits that create unnecessary stress in your life. By the end of this read, you’ll be able to take actionable steps to address these surprising stress triggers for a happier, healthier life.
5 Things That Cause Stress—that you probably don’t think about
1. Checking Your Phone First Thing in The Morning
Are you guilty of reaching for your phone as soon as you wake up? I was once a person that immediately reached for my phone to turn my alarm off and then found myself checking email and scrolling through news.
When you first wake up in the morning, your brain likely moves from delta waves (deep sleep) to theta waves (daydreamy state) then to alpha (awake, but relaxed). But when you grab your phone first thing in the morning and dive headfirst into virtual reality, your body skips those important stages and moves right into beta state, or your conscious mind that thinks and is go go go.
When you’re in theta state, it’s a prime time to tap into your subconscious mind, visualize your future, and lock in goals and achievements. If you skip this time, you are priming your brain not only for distraction but also for stress.
For example, if you wake up and scroll social media first thing, you might see negative news or someone who makes you feel jealous. From there, you’re putting yourself in a pattern of negativity or jealousy for the rest of the day. This is the same if you see a lot of unanswered emails or even one stressful email. Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email In The Morning says, “Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless…there is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes.” In other words, those “problems” can wait.
When you first wake up in the morning, your creative brain is ready to rock! Use this time to visualize what you want your day and life to look like. Use it for self-care and transformation. Keep your phone on airplane mode; your alarm will still go off. Grab a journal and get writing. Try meditating or even taking an earlier morning bath. Have a nice coffee ritual where you don’t take in any information except what you are grateful for.
2. Creating Your Schedule with No Margin
If your day-to-day schedule is packed and you find yourself running at breakneck speed with no “breathing room,” it’s time to reevaluate. This is something that has taken me so long to get used to but has helped me in my life immensely. I realized that my Type-A personality was burning me out, and one of the main causes of my adrenal fatigue (besides, of course, having four little ones).
Believe it or not, slowing down can make you more productive! If you are scheduling meetings and playdates and coffee dates back to back, you don’t have time to pay attention to details. In today’s world, we wear “busy” like a badge of honor. A lot of us, myself included, don’t want to be perceived as lazy. But as the CEO of my own business and a mom, it’s important to remember that busyness does not equal productivity. In fact, extreme busyness leads to burnout, anxiety, and stress-related illnesses like adrenal fatigue, heart disease, Alzheimer’s’ and even colds!
By slowing down and creating more room in our schedule, we are allowing intentionality in our lives. Take a tip from the Dutch, who practice “niksen” or taking time and energy to do activities like sitting motionless or gazing out of the window. Research has found that when we are idle, our minds become more creative, and we become better at problem-solving!
Schedule in downtime. Seriously, but “recharge” in your schedule and do something mindless. This could be as simple as journaling or as hard as meditating (lol). I love to take baths and walk outside. For me, it’s the fastest way to clear my mind, lower stress, and spark creativity.
3. Saying “Yes” When You Know You Should Say “No”
Ladies, this is especially true for us. We can feel responsible for things that are not really our responsibility, and it creates a feeling of never being able to please everyone or keep up with everything. AKA—failure. But here’s the thing, it’s not our responsibility to juggle 20 things at once, to help out our neighbor or sister, or to go out to dinner when all we want to do is stay in.
When we say yes to things we know we don’t have time for or we know we don’t want to do, we are amping up cortisol levels and setting us up for adrenal fatigue, suppressed anger, and more. In Tim Ferris’ book Tribe of Mentors, he reached out to many different experts, entrepreneurs, and athletes who are the best in the world at what they do. More than 130 people said yes, but lots of people said no. He asks one woman who said no if he can use her email in response in the book. She said that she made a promise to herself to stop taking on obligations when she knows it won’t be good for her mentally and physically. She said that she would probably be kicking herself for saying no, but that right now was not the time for her. And ladies, that is how you do it!
Say no. Be kind, be clear, and be concise. No long explanation needed. At first, this will be hard, and it may even press a couple of people’s buttons. But if they care for you, they should/will hopefully eventually understand.
4. Engaging in Toxic Relationships
This goes beyond that judgey friend you still go out to monthly dinners with. This also includes social media. Maybe you find yourself having to explain yourself in social media comments or even your view point on a political post. Engaging in a toxic relationship puts yourself into a negative energy vortex. It also wastes a lot of time.
You may not realize, but toxic relationships create major mental strain and stress. Our emotions and nervous systems can only handle so much. One study found that toxic relationships increase stress disorders and anxiety, while healthy relationships decrease stress disorders and anxiety.
According to Dr. Will Cole, chronic stress of an unhealthy relationship can cause a long-term activation of the brain’s CTRA, contributing to chronic inflammation and increasing the risk of health problems like adrenal fatigue!
Here’s a mini-quiz to see if you are in a toxic relationship. Does do you feel any of the following most or more than half of the time you are with a specific person?:
- Bad about yourself
- Physically or emotionally drained of energy
- Like it’s a one way street. You aren’t getting anything back.
- Shunned, or an outsider. Not accepted for who you are.
- Emotionally or physically unsafe or injured
- Isolated from people who are supportive of you because they won’t let you hang with them.
Figure out if you need to cut this person out of your life entirely or if you need to cut back on time spent with them. If you always feel miserable around them but want to keep hanging out, you will continue to exacerbate the stress cycle. You need to set appropriate boundaries within relationships or social media. Finally, create the tribe you need! Find them at places you love to go that foster health like yoga studios, art studios, gyms, libraries, etc.
5. Watching/Listening to Bad News
This should be obvious, but watching or listening to bad news triggers the stress response. While it’s important to keep up with what is going on in the world, it’s really not helping anyone to immerse themselves in bad news constantly. For starters, watching TV or listening to the radio puts us in a hypnotic state, imprinting negativity into our mind and subconscious.
Consuming the news can activate the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), which causes your body to release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. When a crisis is happening, whether in real life or on the news, we experience the stress response more frequently. This can lead to stress-related diseases, including adrenal fatigue, accelerated aging, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
One study found that people who watched negative material, compared to those who watched positive or neutral material, showed an increase in both sad and anxious moods after only 14 minutes of viewing television news or programs!
Limit news consumption every day or only allow yourself to watch the news on certain days during the week for a short amount of time.
I hope this article has helped you see where you can take control of your happiness and health.